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Japanese swimmer Kitajima confident of winning gold

By Xinhua,

Beijing : The gold quest of Japan’s swim king Kosuke Kitajima looks less rough in the Games this year as his arch rival American swimmer Brendan Hansen failed to book a spot in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke race.

Kitajima’s rivalry with Hansen is perhaps the fiercest in international swimming. They duelled out at key swimming events and held world records for 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke by turns.

In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, despite holding both 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke world records, Hansen was defeated by Kitajima and had to settle for a silver in the 100 meters and a bronze in the 200 meters.

Two months before the Beijing Games, wearing Speedo’s LZR Racer, Kitajima finished in 2 minutes, 07.51 seconds at the Japan Open, shaving almost a second off the previous mark of the men’s 200 breaststroke set by Hansen in 2006.

Kitajima’s performance has greatly boosted Japan’s fervour of obtaining swimming gold medals in Olympics and also prompted the Japanese Swimming Federation to allow Japanese swimmers to use the LZR in Beijing, despite its contract with domestic suppliers.

“I feel like crying,” Kitajima was quoted as saying when he broke Hansen’s 200-meters mark in June. Kitajima had qualified for both the 100-meters and 200-meters breaststroke events in the upcoming Olympics and was expecting a final showdown with Hansen in Beijing.

“I’m working my hardest to overtake him. He’s been the leader in our discipline for a while now so I have to do my best in Beijing,” Kitajima said earlier.

Hansen’s unusual performance was clearly a shock to Kitajima. “I had a feeling that he might not win but never thought he would fail to make the team (for the 200-meters in Beijing),” Kitajima said in a statement issued by his management.

But the 25-year-old swimmer said Hansen’s failure to qualify for the 200-meter event won’t affect his game plan. “I just have to go out and do what I have to do.”

While failing to get qualified for the 200 breaststroke race, Hansen, current world record holder of the 100-meter breaststroke, did get a berth for the 100-meter race in Beijing.

Despite the setback, Hansen, who was run down in the 200-meter trial by his training partners Scott Spann and Eric Shanteau, is not willing to give up the fight against Kitajima.

“It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to show these guys what they need to do to beat him,” Hansen who turns 27 in August said after the U.S. Olympic trial, apparently referring to Kitajima.

Relatively small at 177cm and 72kg, Kitajima is known for his efficient swimming style, compared to Hansen’s powerful strokes. Kitajima first made his mark by being the first swimmer to set a new world record at the Asian Games when he did so in the 200meters breaststroke in 2002 at Busan.

Looking ahead at the Games next month , Kitajima said his record breaking performance last month gave him a lot of confidence. “The only thing I have in mind right now is to win the gold in Beijing,” Kitajima was quoted by the Associated Press.